When does an artist’s personality, their character as human beings, start to interfere with the art they produce? It’s a question that is constantly coming up to me. It might be because the filmmakers who choose to make unique and effectively strange works of art tend to be controversial in their own right. It’s not shocking that the best artists are, just simply, nuts. So where do I draw the line? Is it even a straight line or a steep one?
Sometimes the issues that bring up the question are effectively harmless. Recently, Kevin Smith has pretty much gone on a rampage, burning down every bridge available to him. Last year, when he said he would be auctioning off the distribution rights to his film, Smith made a grand spectacle of basically keep his rights and basically calling everyone in the room jackasses. Even when his grand plans of getting Red State in theaters with little more than his name backfired, Smith continued on with insane rants. He claimed that this was the plan all along, despite the hours of podcasts that clearly show his original intentions. His actions have alienated me way more than the string of under par films he has made in the past decade. Despite this, I enjoyed Red State (2011). It was a movie full of potential that was ultimately wasted. It’s disappointing, but far from being a terrible film. I can still watch Chasing Amy (1997) and marvel at how good it is without ever worrying about Kevin Smith’s delusional new perspective of the world.
However, sometimes the issues have more to do with ideals rather than just being assholes. I think Ricky Gervais is amazing. The original The Office (2001-2003) remains as one of the funniest TV shows I have ever seen. Extras (2005-2007)is a particularly good follow up to it. But once his profile started getting big, so did his arrogance. He started saying dickish things over and over again. I have no problem with that. It all falls under the same thing as Kevin Smith. My issues with Gervais came to a front when he became so comfortable with shoving his atheistic views down everyone’s throat. I really don’t care if someone believes in a god or not. I think religion and spirituality is a very personal thing that can and should be shared with likeminded people. But when you start degrading others for not being as enlightened as you are, that’s too far. Gervais has decided to make his personal ideals synonymous with his art. He has begun infusing his projects with atheism. His film The Invention of Lying (2009)is the most prominent example, creating a world of truth where the sole liar casually invents the idea of God. While I’m irritated by this (not to mention his utter loss of subtlety in his work), I can still look fondly and objectively at his projects.
So far so good, right? My line seems to be unmoving. I am apparently able to separate the artist from the art when it comes to a matter of different opinions. What about when the differences and issues with an artist escape from just personality and thoughts and go into action? Does physical agency start blurring the line, transforming the straight line it into a zigzag that fits my own convenience? Unfortunately, I think that may be the case.
I love Chinatown (1974). When people ask me for top ten lists of my favorite or best films (yes, there is a difference), I know that they will consistently be different. My lists change depending on my mood or what films I have recently seen. However, I always know a few movies that have guaranteed spots somewhere in the top ten. Chinatown is one of those films and will always be towards the top on both lists. I think it is a masterful work of art that doesn’t pull any punches. The cinematography is gorgeous and the writing is pitch-perfect. But the glue (the director) that holds it all together might as well be made from severely tortured baby horses. While a film is the combined work of hundreds of people, the director is most often credited with the vision and leadership to get the finished product. The director of the film is Roman Polanski.
Polanski has faced a ton of adversity, having lived through atrocities in Poland during WWII and the murder of his wife Sharon Tate at the hands of the Manson Family. His is an immensely talented director and writer. None of this excuses Polanski from the accusations of drugging and raping a thirteen year old girl. In 1977 he was indicted on seven criminal counts including rape. He pled down to simply having sex with a minor, but left the U.S. after he felt his judge was going to go back on the plea deal. In recent years, his victim has urged forgiveness for Polanski.
All of these horrible actions taken by Polanski make him a terrible person in my eyes. I have no desire to ever be in the same room with him. I had no idea that he had done what he did before I saw Chinatown. it really sickens me that I can still watch his films and be entertained by them. I can’t even hide behind the notion that I only enjoy movies made before his shitty behavior. The Ninth Gate (1999), The Pianist (2002), The Ghost Writer (2010), and Carnage (2011) are remarkable films. I fight with myself for seeing these films and holding them up to such a high degree. I have let my morals down to appease my entertainment needs. My line may still be straight, but with heavy stress on my mind.
What about the artists that I think are producing bad work? I think that Chris Brown’s music is terrible. I can’t stand his music and never could. When news broke of his beating of Rihanna, it cemented my dislike of his music and of the man. What if by some miracle of nature, he produces a song that I find good and interesting? Will my already biased view of him cause me to just dismiss what could be a great song? What if Rihanna forgives him? Who am I to judge him for his actions when the victim has already continued past it? I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t listen to that miraculously good song specifically because of his actions.
In the end, I’m a hypocrite. My line goes around and around, never truly standing for anything. If I think the artist and the work should be separate, I should give Brown a chance. If they should be one and the same, then Polanski’s films should be ostracized from my viewing pleasure. I’m not ok with being a hypocrite. I should judge what the art stands for, not the artist. But my selfishness simply won’t let me.
So what does your line look like? Is it as selfish as mine or more geared to the greater good of art?